Reijo Wilenius is the former General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Fin/and. As a young man he was a Waldorf teacher and then taught philosophy at the University for 25 years. He now teaches at the Snellman College, a seminar for anthroposophic studies and Waldorf teacher training in Helsinki.
This lecture was given at the International Waldorf Kindergarten Conference in Dornach on May 31,1998. The article was written by Susan Howard and Joan Almon from their notes of the talk and it has been reviewed by Reijo Wilenius.
Childhood is not merely a preparation for something else; it has a value unto itself. Novalis said, “The beginning of our humanness is childhood. To the extent that we preserve childhood
in ourselves, to that extent do we preserve our humanness.”
There is a long drawn out spring time in Finland, and that is very special. While Dornach is already filled with flowers at this Whitsun time, the southern part of Finland is just getting the first leaves on the birch trees.
Further north there is still snow. Every aspect of the spring is to be treasured, and this is like childhood which has a beauty in its own right. Its unfolding takes time. The basis of the Waldorf kindergarten is to strive to understand the meaning of childhood.
At the beginning of this century, the Swedish educator Ellen Key called for a “Century of the Child.”
Among other deeds, this century has witnessed the founding of Waldorf education. At the end of the century, however, we see that childhood itself is threatened. The adversarial forces appear to have the upper hand, and the forces of evil and destruction work into the soul landscape of the child.
In his book, Emotional Intelligence [Bantam Books, 1995], Daniel Goleman supports this picture with statistical documentation. From 1970 to 1990, aggression and fear were on the rise, yielding a loss of ability to concentrate in later youth and a 300% increase in violence and criminality. There have also been great increases in drug use, most notably among African American youth whose drug use is now 13 times as high as before. Suicide has also increased significantly. These trends we see strongly in the United States, but also in Europe.If this continues we will have a “storm of violence,” a soul catastrophe which will be an outer disaster and also an inner disaster. Young people who have never had a childhood will not have the inner forces to stand strong against the temptations of drugs, violence and sexuality.
Rudolf Steiner's description of these times is very similar to Goleman's. Steiner described an inner fragmentation of soul forces - a separation of the thinking from the feeling and the willing aspects of life. In Steiner's words, we unconsciously cross the threshold and are unprepared; the soul forces split apart.
In today's education the intellectual forces are stimulated early. The cold intellect is educated, but not the feeling life or the will. Feeling and will then seek stimulation and go wild, turning towards violence,drugs, intensive music and other similar stimulants.
When the will develops without feeling or compassion, then aggression arises. What does Goleman suggest? Even in a slum situation, if a child is brought up with warmth, love and understanding, then the capacity for emotional intelligence will develop in the child. When the children hear stories and fairy tales told by adults and when the children have the chance to respect this experience, then they can experience their own feelings which develop and mature over time. This is especially true when the people around the child have a true, sincere interest in the life of children.
These suggestions sound remarkably like those of Waldorf education. It is clear that as the need for this inner capacity of emotional maturity become greater, so does the need for an education like Waldorf.
Waldorf education operates under the aegis of the Spirit of the Times, the Archangel Michael, who overcomes the dragon so that the Michaelic impulse can have a working place on the earth.
Reijo Wilenius, Finland
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